By Brad Berfas, Esq.
As parents we will do anything for our children and love them unconditionally, but what do we do when our child chooses one parent over another regardless of that unconditional love?
Take it a step further: what if that child stops communicating with you, talking to you, or wanting to spend any time with you, as if you were a stranger? It is challenging, incomprehensible, and you tell yourself they will come around, but is that wishful thinking? How long do you wait? Is there anything you can do to continue to show that love to your child from a distance? You question yourself: What did I do? Can I change, or should I even have to?
Even more than that, imagine the pain when that child is now feeling the emotional effects of your divorce and wants nothing to do with you. Now that pain becomes even more unbearable. The divorce was hard enough, but now you have lost your child to the parent who likely caused the divorce to begin with and this is a continuation of their controlling you, sabotaging your relationship with your children through alienating them outside the marriage. It is unfathomable why one parent would indoctrinate the mind of his or her child against the other, but this is a phenomenon that has become increasingly more apparent, as the alienated parent, often referred to as the targeted parent, feels unworthy in the eyes of his or her child.
This term is better known as parental alienation. It is also known to many as the silent pandemic. The best way to define this pandemic is when a child is controlled and manipulated by the other parent in a narcissistic way, making them feel loathed and unwanted by a previously loving parent. When I wrote on this topic in the past there was an abundance of excellent feedback, as well as many others following up and writing on this very important issue, though most of us do not truly comprehend its full magnitude. I hope that this article will continue to elicit other insights and ideas to combat this atrocity.
Dr. Joshua Coleman, PhD, a renowned therapist from San Francisco who specializes as an expert in the field of parental alienation, addressed a huge frum crowd at a Saturday night event on January 7 at the Hilton Parsippany in New Jersey. He shared his insights into how to tackle parental alienation from the perspective of validating the children’s feelings and communicating effectively with them, in the hopes of reconciling the broken relationship. Dr. Coleman emphasized the importance of recognizing the pain the children are feeling as to why they want to have no relationship with you, even if you, as the parent, believe the child has no reason(s) for feeling that pain towards you.
Furthermore, many parents feel the shame of admitting that their child is not present and, understandably so, they are in constant pain not having their child in their everyday lives. They are apprehensive that if they say anything to the child, it will be construed in the wrong way, making reconciliation even harder, so they reluctantly remain silent. The unimaginable part is the child is not feeling anything close to that pain as they have in their heads; they were brainwashed by the alienator that you are the problem and have been taught that you do not deserve to be present in their lives. The alienators convince the child that the targeted parent is toxic and being around them would be unhealthy. This is child abuse at the highest level, yet there are no criminal repercussions, and the distance between parent and child will likely have long-term detrimental effects on the child, such as hatred, depression, trust issues, as well as low self-esteem.
Speaking to friends, family, rabbis, and going the court route does not get you any closer to your child. Parental alienation is beyond difficult, and most judges do not see the severity. There are times when the targeted parent is given the child back, but that is more the exception than the norm and enforcing it is extremely problematic. Forcing your child to call or see you is almost impossible, regardless if they order mandated therapy, and then your child is even more distant from you. The pain and torture become insufferable. Friends, family, and rabbis will be supportive; however, they cannot fully comprehend the pain you are experiencing, and even if they get involved to talk to your child or the ex who is alienating the child from you, this becomes a situation that will end with negative results, as the child will likely become even more distant. As such, the choices are very limited and the once loving and doting parent feels completely helpless, has a hard time functioning in everyday society, and/or does not even feel a reason to live.
Getting an estranged parent back into a child’s life is not simple, to say the least. You never want to fight fire with fire with your child and cross sacred boundaries, but you cannot give up. Do not fall prey to the parent who is alienating you and play their game of control. Every child is different, and each child can react differently to various methods one may use. Attacking the alienator is a lost cause, because you will never win. Do not blame your child for the alienation. Focus on listening to your child by reaching out via a letter, e-mail, text, or even a phone call, putting your animosity towards your ex aside, and asking your child what you can do to improve your relationship. Ask your children why they feel the way they do. Engage with your children by admitting fault and asking them how you can change and do things differently. You may not believe you have anything to apologize for, but this is where you act as the parent. If you want your child back, your child needs to see that remorse. Send your child a gift certificate for a nominal amount just to say you are thinking of him or her. Do not forget holidays and birthdays, regardless of whether you ever get a thank-you. Send e-mails periodically to say I love you, hope you had a nice day or weekend, etc. Keep e-mails and/or texts short and focus on the child. Remember that this is not about you, it is always about trying to reconnect that bond that was once unbreakable and now is shattered into a million pieces.
In time the child will know you care and love him. The goal is for the child to slowly get back into your life, but if he or she does not respond to an e-mail and/or a gift, do not give up. You may need to take a few steps back by not engaging in continued texts and or e-mails in the present, but that does not mean you should give up completely. Many kids do return, though it may take months or even years and there is no set formula that works. But giving your child space will hopefully enable them to return to you in time. A child needs to feel safe, and by letting go but holding on, one will see that, ultimately, with time and patience, their child will be back in their lives.
Let us hope and pray that alienation of a parent will cease to exist and that all parents will be able to love and cherish their children and be an integral part of their life without the other parent indoctrinating them with fear, anxiety, and toxicity.
Brad Berfas is a partner at Berfas & Associates, P.C. He can be reached at 917-515-0822 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.